A beautification and safety enhancement project once slated to improve a section of the Tulane Avenue corridor by the end of August now has a new deadline, according to officials: the end of 2016.
Once finished, the Streetscape project will offer safer, wider streets by reducing six lanes to four, along with other improvements that will extend from South Carrollton to South Claiborne avenues.
Members of the Regional Planning Commission and Department of Transportation and Development, who along with the City of New Orleans are working on the project, have long touted the improvements, but the project has been marred by delays, changes in landscaping plans and budgetary restrictions.
Due to “issues encountered in the field,” and the fact that Tulane Avenue is actually a U.S. Highway and the project must comply with certain federal standards, the latest estimated finish date is before 2017, according to Walter Brooks, the executive director of the RPC.
The coming improvements, however, don’t include the project’s scope as it was originally proposed in 2011. Future improvements could include new and improved lighting and landscaping, elements that won’t be put in place for at least a couple of years, Brooks said.
In an email, Brooks clarified to Mid-City Messenger that the existing lighting on Tulane, which was in the median in the area between Rocheblave and Claiborne, needed to be removed in order to widen the median and provide the community with protected turning lanes.
That lighting, he said, will be replaced, and will include new poles and LED lighting fixtures in accordance with state and city standards. This will take place as part of the existing contract and timeline, Brooks said.
The remainder of the corridor between Rocheblave and Carrollton, in the meantime, already has lighting in the sidewalk areas.
Any further improvements would have to be handled by the city, Brooks said. He added that “new lighting,” in the median, would have to be handled as a separate contract. If approved, it would take about three years.
As far as landscaping goes, Brooks announced that the Regional Planning Commission “is ready to advance the funding” for the entire corridor, from Claiborne to Carrollton avenues.
However, plans can be drawn up, the RPC has to get consensus between both Parks and Parkways and the DOTD, he added. Parkways wants trees, he said in the email, but DOTD favors shrubbery because of “line of sight requirements.”
The city would also need to agree to long-term maintenance of the landscape materials which are installed.
RPC, in the meantime, would like to see a combination of “primarily shrubby with modest number of trees which do not obstruct driver visibility,” Brooks added.
If consensus happens before the end of the year, installation can start as soon as 2017, he said.
“It is difficult to set definitive dates since we are working with the city and the state the projects includes a number of moving parts, all of which need to meet state design standards and requires a commitment from the city in regard to maintenance of both the lighting and landscaping,” Brooks wrote. “The financing is not as much a problem as building a consensus between the parties. When we get this consensus agreement, then you will see the landscaping project advance much more quickly.”
According to the Regional Planning Commission, the city first decided to widen the corridor along Tulane Avenue in the Mid-City and Tulane Gravier neighborhoods in 1957 because of the rapidly expanding medical center.
By the time the Interstate-10 system was built in the 1970s, Tulane Avenue was the major transportation artery for Charity Hospital, the Louisiana State University (LSU) Medical Center, and Tulane Medical Center. The throughway had been designated a state highway — US Highway 61 in one part, and US 90 in another.
Then, in 2011, the Department of Transportation and Development and the New Orleans Regional Planning Commission collaborated to once again improve the throughway by implementing a Streetscape project.
According to a July email from Bambi Hall, a public information officer with the Louisiana Department of Transportation, the project will provide “safety and traffic operational improvements” to the road. Work will include elimination of the inside lanes in each direction to provide left turn lanes, bike lanes and better handicap and pedestrian access.
When finished, the raised median will also be placed in the middle of the road, and there will be added stripping and reflectors. There will also be a five-foot bike lane and 7.5 feet of road for side parking.